Early 18th-Century Ballad Operas and Their Role in the Theatrical Public Sphere



Year of publication 2020
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description Like theatre in all ages, the English early 18th-century theatre was a social phenomenon which took an active part in the public discourse of its time. One genre that was particularly reflexive of the current affairs was the English ballad opera, whose subversive potential is demonstrated by the fact that ballad operas were the most frequently censored dramatic form of the 1730s. One way to approach such public participation offers Christopher Balme in his study The Theatrical Public Sphere (2014), where he remodels Jürgen Habermas’s theory of the public sphere for the purposes of the study of theatre. Balme proposes three modes of theatre’s engagement with the public sphere: the rational-critical mode, which opens a discursive platform, the affective-agonistic mode with a political or persuasive potential, and the ludic mode based on satire. By drawing on Balme’s concept, the paper revisits several ballad operas and analyses them with respect to their potential engagement with the theatrical public sphere of their time. The paper demonstrates that ballad operas, which are often disregarded as ephemeral, and therefore insignificant, musical entertainment, had the capacity to participate in a broader discussion of public affairs which reached far beyond the spaces of London playhouses.
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